Last year science finally figured out how controlling your breath, yoga-style, helps soothe the nervous system. During a study in which they removed the ability of mice to register excited breathing, researchers from the University of California and Stanford University of Medicine identified 175 neurons that keep close tabs on the rapidity of our breathing in order to alert us if something goes wrong.
When we take slow, deep breaths those neurons deduce that everything is fine and you begin to feel calmer. While this mechanism is usually triggered automatically, you can affect it using techniques that slow down and regulate your breath.
Elongate the exhale
Close your eyes and draw your attention to the breath as it exits the lungs. Try to extend the exhale smoothly and consistently, then let the inhale happen without effort. As the breath cycle becomes slower you will start to feel calmer automatically.
When you’re anxious, your breath becomes shallow and feels as if sits high up in the chest. Focus on the downward motion of the diaphragm. Let your breaths expand the belly rather than the upper chest.
The 4-7-8 technique
Sit comfortably and begin to inhale through your nose for a count of four seconds. Retain the breath for seven seconds, then exhale out of your mouth—letting the air make a “whoosh” sound—for eight. Repeat until you feel focused and relaxed.
Alternate nostril breathing
This is a yogic pranayama technique known as “Nadi Shodhana” that pacifies the nervous system. Start by folding the middle and pointer fingers on your right hand towards the palm, then place the thumb on the right nostril and the ring finger and pinky on the left. Start by covering one nostril and inhaling through the other, hold the breath at the top for a moment, and exhale through the opposite nostril. On the next breath start the flow of air in the other direction.